SKOPJE, North Macedonia (AP) — Hundreds of people in Skopje, many wrapped in the yellow and red national flag, gathered in a park Sunday to watch North Macedonia’s debut at the European Championship.

The country’s national soccer team played Austria in Bucharest while people back home watched the match on a big screen at a park in the Novo Lisiche neighborhood, many chanting “Macedonia, Macedonia.”

At halftime, with the teams even at 1-1, 73-year-old retiree Vladimir Kocevski told The Associated Press he was “pleasantly surprised” by the score.

“The battle is grave,” he said, “but I do hope we will endure and will score another goal at the end.”

Unfortunately for the gathering, the goals at the end were scored by Austria, which went on to win the Euro 2020 match 3-1.

Vlatko Gicev was understandably disappointed with the result, but he remained optimistic about the team’s chances at the tournament.


“This is just one game and I hope we will be better in the next games,” the 39-year-old Gicev said.

North Macedonia, which gained FIFA and UEFA membership in 1994, still has at least two more matches to play at Euro 2020 — against Ukraine in Bucharest on Thursday and then against the Netherlands in Amsterdam on June 21.

The top two teams in each of the six groups will advance to the round of 16 along with the four best third-place teams.

An estimated 5,000 Macedonians made the trip to Bucharest to support the national team. Among them was a government “troika” led by Prime Minister Zoran Zaev. He was accompanied by foreign minister Bujar Osmani and economic minister Krechnik Bekteshi.

“We are going to support the Macedonian national team,” Zaev wrote on Facebook. “Together we are stronger, only united can we succeed. Go ahead guys, the whole country is cheering for you!”


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